How Biochar Will Help Kenya Go Green And Save Money
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Re:char is a pioneering company that sells kilns to farmers in Kenya that allow them to convert their farm waste into what’s known as biochar, which can then be used for cooking. As an enterprise, Re:char seeks to deliver a “triple bottom line,” expanding the uses of sustainable alternatives for energy, providing a cost effective solution for farmers in an effort to combat poverty, and stemming deforestation in Africa by encouraging use of biochar as cooking fuel instead of cutting down trees for firewood. Jason Aramburu, CEO of re:char which works in Bungoma, in the Western Province of Kenya, spoke to us about the emerging area of biochar and a grant that re:char just received from the Gates Foundation to develop a system to transform human waste into biochar.
Fast Company: Where did you get the idea for re:char?
Jason Aramburu: I was doing due diligence for a clean energy investor in New York. After the 2008 financial crisis, the investor I was working for was hit hard. He didn’t show up for work for a week, when he came back, it was obvious that he was negatively impacted by the crisis. He ultimately decided to slow down his operations. As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I reflected back on an experience I had had in college, I had participated in a program in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute where I worked on a variety of different projects involving soil and nutrient cycling. I’d heard about biochar there. After the crash, I thought it was time to try something new and re:char began.
What exactly is biochar?
In the Amazon basin for over 3,000 years indigenous farmers have been making charcoal and burying it in the ground. They did this because it improved the soil’s ability to capture and retain nutrients, which led to increased crop yields. The soil is so fertile, that they call these sites terra preta which means black earth in Portuguese. What the farmers didn’t know 3,000 years ago was that biochar was actually making a lasting impact on the soil. Today at the sites where they buried the biochar, it’s still in the ground. As a result of how fertile the land is, that biochar-rich land is worth about five times as much as the land without it.